x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Tobacco sold 'like sweets' to children

The drugs awareness section at the Dubai Police asks parents and school teachers to be on the look-out for a tobacco product called Chaini Khaini.

DUBAI //Police say small shops near schools are getting children hooked on a tobacco product they sell "like sweets".

Dubai Police is alerting principals and parents to a product called Chaini Khaini, which has been found to contain high amounts of nicotine.

"Chaini Khaini is increasingly becoming common among kids as young as 11 years of age," said Sulaiman Abdulla Albalushi, an officer at the drugs awareness section of Dubai Police. "They do not understand that what is being sold to them as candy is actually tobacco."

Chaini Khaini costs about Dh2 and is often promoted as a smokeless cigarette substitute. The flavoured tobacco comes in small pouches that are placed in the mouth against a cheek, where the product is absorbed without chewing.

It is available in flavours such as lemon, strawberry, mint, green apple and cinnamon.

Although it is a controlled product, it can be found in certain groceries and supermarkets across the country.

Mr Albalushi said his department had started visiting schools to inform teachers and students about the dangers of the product and other addictive substances including prescription drugs.

He said teachers had complained after seeing some children carrying Chaini Khaini at school.

"When we show them the packet containing a small amount of tobacco in small pouches and ask them what it is, they say sweets," he said.

"Then we have to explain to them that it's harmful to their health. Once they know, they tend to avoid it."

In April, Dubai Police asked authorities to monitor the sale of the product. Shops found selling Chaini Khaini to minors can be fined up to Dh2,000 and face temporary closure.

Mr Albalushi said some sellers changed the packaging to avoid being caught and he urged parents and schools to be vigilant.

Zahra Fayez, an Emirati parent from Umm Al Qaiwain who has two boys in primary school, agreed that parents need to be on guard.

"I have seen [Chaini Khaini] in shops and a lot of children buy it thinking it is good. I have also heard many parents complain about it," she said.

"I always check what my children are carrying in their bags and talk to the teacher about their behaviour in school."

Mrs Fayez said the Government also needed to come up with ways to curb the problem.

"It needs to be a combined effort from our part, the society, schools, authorities and police to reinforce the dangers and punish those who influence children into bad habits."

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) flagged the issue of tobacco use among under-20s last month after conducting a survey of 2,457 pupils in the emirate.

About 14.6 per cent of children surveyed said they used tobacco in some form. The majority of young users (11.2 per cent) smoked cigarettes, while 2.2 per cent used shisha, 1.9 per cent used a pipe, 0.8 per cent smoked cigars and another 0.8 per cent said they chewed tobacco.

"When they are young, they follow what their friends do," said Azzam Hassan, principal of the Mohammed Bin Hamad School in Fujairah.

"They are confused and cannot differentiate between right and wrong unless they are guided."

He said it was the responsibility of both schools and families to set a good example, and urged parents to avoid smoking in front of children.

The community health services programme section of the DHA said it would conduct campaigns and implement new policies by 2012 to address the matter.

aahmed@thenational.ae